Sgt. Brian Ragin
2nd ABCT
Courtesy photo
Lt. Col. Brian T. Looney(Middle), Command Sgt. Maj. Oscar Rodriguez (last on right), Master Sgt. Joushua Spaulding(first on left), 1st Lt. Trisha Burden (third from left), 1st Lt. Ralpael Eirea(third from right), 2nd Lt. Amanda Atkinson(second from left), and Staff Sgt. Johnny Gray(second from right), all assigned to 9th BEB, 2nd ABCT, 3rd ID, pose for a picture after the Best Sapper award ceremony at Nutter Field-house, May 4 on Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Spartan Soldiers bring it at Best Sapper Competition

The Super Bowl for the U.S. Army Engineer Corps’ community – the Best Sapper Competition – started May 1 and ended May 4, with an award presentation at Nutter Field House on Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The competition measured resiliency, physical and mental stamina, and technical and tactical proficiency. Two teams from 9th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, vied for the title of top combat engineer, which included the Army’s first all-female team, Team 20, and an all-male team, Team 25.

While 50 teams traveled from across the country to the competition to compete, only 35 teams made it through to the final day. In the end, the 9th BEB team consisting of 1st Lt. Rafael Eirea Lamberto and Staff Sgt. Johnny Gray, Team 25, placed 15th overall in the Best Sapper Competition and first place in the Sapper Stakes event. The event included a stress shoot, clearing a building, physical exercises, a hand grenade lane, an improvised shape charge, reconnaissance of a river crossing, breaching and identification of foreign weapons among other things.

1st Lt. Trisha Burden and 2nd Lt. Amanda Atkinson, Team 20, the first all-female team to compete in the Best Sapper Competition, came up short after Burden injured her foot during an event.

“The most challenging event was the X-mile ruck,” said Atkinson. “The cadre planned a smoker of a course for it and with my partner’s injured foot we struggled to keep the pace that we needed. We completed the eight-hour ruck but came up short on the required distance.”

Described as a condensed 50-hour version of the original 28-day Sapper Leaders Course, the Best Sapper Competition tests teams’ mastery of engineer skills. Covering 51 miles in 50 hours, competitors waged through numerous technical, tactical and physically demanding events while carrying 65-pounds plus on their backs.

Participants noted the competition was stiff and the events were grueling, but Team 25 stayed engaged and motivated and ended up surprising themselves coming in first place during the Sapper Stakes event.

Eirea Lamberto, a 23-year-old Cuban-born American from Miami, graduated from Sapper school on April 9, just two weeks before the competition started.

“We were sitting at the award ceremony thinking there is no way we won this,” explained Eirea Lamberto. “I was very surprised we took first is Sapper Stakes because there were so many competitive teams. I feel like we were successful because Gray and I worked as a team throughout the whole day. We stayed consistent and never quit.”

Gray, a 27-year-old Atlanta native, graduated from Sapper school in August 2017 and added the competition was rough, humbling, but he and Eireat Lamberto made it through. They both look forward to heading back next year.

Both 9th BEB teams said the first day of the competition was especially difficult. Starting with a non-standard physical fitness test, a poncho raft swim across a man-made lake and a nine-station round-robin engineer event.

“The atmosphere was incredible,” said Burden. “If I have the opportunity to compete again next year, I will absolutely be there. It was an honor to compete in the competition as the first all-female team, but also to represent 9th BEB, 2nd ABCT, and 3rd ID.”

“These two teams put in countless hours outside of work to prepare for the Best Sapper Competition,” said Lt. Col. Brian Looney, commander of 9th BEB. “It’s awesome to have these teams recognized for their excellent performance, more inspiring is that they are already talking about next year’s competition.”